Team Parker’s Parfitt & Morris on pole for British GT opener at Brands

Track action

Track action Team Parker Racing’s Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris will line up on pole position for tomorrow’s opening round of this season’s British GT Championship

after topping both the GT3 Am and Pro qualifying sessions earlier today at Brands Hatch, while Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke headed the GT4 contingent in their Century Motorsport Ginetta.

Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw’s Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 secured a front row grid slot for the car’s British GT debut while Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam should also be a threat from third aboard their TF Sport-run Aston Martin.

Walewska and Freke are unlikely to have an easy time of it either thanks to Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson’s PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport G55 GT4, and Beechdean AMR new boys Jordan Albert and Jack Bartholomew, who qualified second and third respectively.

After a relatively low-key showing in free practice Parfitt Jnr and Morris announced themselves as serious victory contenders over the course of this afternoon’s two 10-minute qualifying sessions.

Johnston and TF Sport’s practice pace had made them early favourites for the Am spoils, and the Geordie initially didn’t disappoint by occupying top spot for most of the session. Twice he set the benchmark time only for Parfitt Jnr to snatch provisional pole by just 0.033s in the dying moments.

So competitive is British GT3’s Am contingent that just 0.4s covered a top-six comprising five different manufacturers. Liam Griffin’s Barwell Lamborghini, the Optimum Motorsport Audi R8 LMS of Will Moore, Lee Mowle’s BMW Z4 GT3 and Minshaw’s second Barwell Huracan completed the first half dozen, while Alasdair McCaig’s Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650S GT3 and the Tolman Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT3 driven by Ian Stinton added further variety just behind.

With such a slender advantage the smart money was perhaps on debutant Morris slipping behind more experienced fellow Pros like Keen and Adam. However, the Welshman nailed his opening lap to extend the difference further. Indeed, his individual best of 1m22.907s was 1.8s faster than last year’s pole time while his and Parfitt Jnr’s combined time was almost twice as quick again.

Keen’s best lap might have been 0.5s down on Morris’ but it still proved rapid enough to haul the Barwell Lamborghini he shares with Minshaw from sixth to second ahead of Adam and Johnston, who slipped one place to third.

Rob Bell performed a similar feat to Keen’s by moving his Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren up three spots to secure fourth on the grid ahead of Joe Osborne, who maintained fifth for Fabio Babini, driving the Lamborghini he shares with Griffin, was sixth.

Jon Barnes and Mark Farmer will be disappointed with seventh after showing well in free practice aboard the second TF Sport Aston Martin, while Mike Simpson kept his and Stinton’s Ginetta in the top eight.

Ross Wylie and Phil Dryburgh’s Motorbase Performance V12 Vantage is ninth, one place clear of Team Abba with Rollcentre Racing’s all-Am pairing of Richard Neary and Martin Short.

Ryan Ratcliffe spun his Optimum Motorsport Audi into the gravel before setting a representative time, while Ross Gunn – who’d earlier topped FP2 – was guaranteed to line up last after co-driver and reigning champion Andrew Howard skipped qualifying to contest the ELMS round at Silverstone. The Beechdean AMR Vantage’s progress will be an interesting sub-plot during tomorrow’s race, especially after Gunn posted the second quickest Pro qualifying time.

Rick Parfitt Jnr, Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3: “It’s just amazing. Amazing! My first two laps were ok but a bit scrappy; maybe eight out of 10s. In fact, I apologised when I came in after the session because the team hadn’t told me we were provisionally on pole! I couldn’t believe it! I thought we had the pace to be top-six contenders, which was our aim. The Bentley’s not best suited to Brands, and that looked to be the case in practice, too. We didn’t fully show our hand this morning but, even so, we honestly didn’t expect to be on pole. What a way to start the season.”

Seb Morris, Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3: “I feel relief more than anything else! 2015 was a long year for me without results, plus you feel the pressure and expectation from all the Bentley fans, so it’s great to be on pole. When I saw Rick go quickest I thought ‘Okay, game on!’. I knew from my GP3 experience with Pirelli that if I could really nail the first lap we’d have a chance, and it paid off. There are very few laps I’ve driven in my career when I’ve thought ‘That was about as good as I can do’. But that was one of them!”

Jonny Adam, TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3: “I never got the lap together, really. Derek did a great job and continued the progression he’s made over the winter, but I could have got my time down a bit more. Probably not to Seb’s level but there was enough out there to put us on the front row. The pairings in front of us are quick but if we knuckle down I think a podium’s possible tomorrow. The car’s very consistent.”

Century’s pace in second practice made them a likely candidate for pole, and so it proved during a red flag-interrupted session.

Walewska’s time in the Am session had been good enough for sixth in class before both the Stratton Motorsport Lotus and Simpson Motorsport Ginetta beached themselves in the gravel with six of the 10 minutes remaining.

Having failed to improve when the session resumed, it was down to team boss Freke – returning to the series as a driver this year – to replicate the pace he’d demonstrated en route to setting the fastest FP2 time.

And he duly delivered thanks to a pair of consecutive fastest laps, the second of which – a 1m31.169s – was just over a second quicker than 2015’s class qualifying benchmark.

Pole was also just reward for the University of Bolton and its engineering students who are helping to prepare Century’s #73 entry this year.

It was a similar story at PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport whose Am driver, Graham Johnson, ended his session fifth fastest and just under a second from provisional pole. Step forward Mike Robinson who initially swapped positions with Freke before settling for a GT4 class front row grid slot. His and Johnson’s combined time was just 0.262s behind Freke and Walewska’s.

Third went to reigning champions Beechdean AMR who were on pole at ‘half-time’ courtesy of Jack Bartholomew before slipping 0.6s adrift during the Pro session. Nevertheless, Bartholomew and co-driver Jordan Albert were still fastest of the all-Silver driver pairings.

Jordan Stilp and Richard Phillips gave RCIB Insurance Racing fourth on their British GT4 debut, and Ginetta three cars in the top four positions, while another new team and young driver pairing – Generation AMR Macmillan Racing and Matty Graham/Jack Mitchell – are one place further back.

The second Century Motorsport Ginetta of Sean Byrne and Aleksander Schjerpen qualified sixth ahead of the new Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 570S GT4 piloted by teenagers Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell, who will become the youngest driver ever to start a British GT race tomorrow. The Scot will be 16 years and 41 days old.

Scott Malvern and Nick Jones recovered from the latter’s Am session spin to make the top-eight in their Simpson Motorsport Ginetta.

Wilson Thompson was excluded from qualifying after passing three sets of red lights. However, he and RCIB Insurance Racing co-driver Rob Barrable were already condemned to lining up last after Thompson crashed while attempting to avoid an on-track collision.

Tomorrow’s two-hour British GT season opener at Brands Hatch gets underway at 13.30 BST.

Anna Walewska, Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “It’s been a long winter for us and we’ve worked very hard for this. We went out to do the Dubai 24 Hours, tested loads and worked a lot with Nathan [Freke].

Credit to him and the team who have both brought me on leaps and bounds from last year. But the pressure’s on for tomorrow, especially as it’s my first British GT pole. The Am qualifying session was tricky because of the red flag, which breaks up your four or five lap attack. But I’m just pleased to have had one in the bank that Nathan could do something with.”

Nathan Freke, Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “It might have looked good from the outside but inside everything was a little bit frantic! I managed to find a gap at the start of the session, banked a decent lap but lost maybe four tenths trying to pass the Beechdean car. Then on my next lap I had a couple of fuel surges, so was getting all worked up when the team came on the radio to say it was good enough for pole! We were tight on fuel to get the most out of it but the car was sublime. The amount of grip from the Pirellis was just ridiculous, and the set-up was spot on, too.”

Mike Robinson, PMW Expo/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “I was losing a lot of time in sector one; I just couldn’t get it right through Druids. So with that in mind I’m pleased to be P2 and only a couple of tenths behind Nathan [Freke]. Graham [Johnson] didn’t get the clear laps he needed but, as a pairing, I think we’re in a good place for tomorrow’s race. He’s got more pace in him and the car feels good, so fingers crossed we can go one better than last year.”

Jack Bartholomew, Beechdean AMR Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4: “I was really lucky to get my fastest lap in before the red flags, which really affected our session. There was a bit of traffic but not too much. I couldn’t have asked for much more than setting the fastest time in my session on my British GT debut, living up to Beechdean’s reputation. Hopefully I can carry that into the race. The car’s well balanced and definitely geared towards the race, which is why we perhaps weren’t quite as high as you’d expect in practice. But I love British GT’s qualifying format; you go out and only have a couple of laps to deliver.”

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